Champaign City Council to vote on Big Broadband this week

CHAMPAIGN – The city council on Tuesday is expected to make a final decision on "Big Broadband," and the vote could determine whether the Champaign-Urbana high-speed Internet network will continue or be buried.

The council is schedule to vote on the project during its regular meeting Tuesday night at 7 in the City Building, 102 N. Neil St.

Maryland consultant Doug Dawson will travel to Champaign for the meeting to answer questions council members have about the project.

Fearing that the city would be on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in the years following the network's construction, some members and Mayor Jerry Schweighart in recent weeks have expressed concern about the financial sustainability of the network.

Others have said the network would be a boon to the local economy and a way to keep Champaign-Urbana on the cutting edge.

"I know they have a bunch of questions," Dawson said Friday.

Dawson said he will recommend that the city accept a $22.5 million federal grant to build the network. The benefits of high-speed Internet access outweigh the costs of the project, he said.

The council will discuss the proposal and question Dawson before taking a final vote. Tuesday's meeting would be the council's last regularly-scheduled opportunity to vote on the proposal before a federal 30-day deadline to accept the grant lapses.

Information Technologies Director Fred Halenar said a Champaign council vote against the proposal could kill the project for the University of Illinois and the city of Urbana, too.

A "no" vote could also put Urbana and the UI on the hook for $688,000, the amount Champaign would have contributed. If Champaign drops out, Urbana and the UI would have to come up with the matching funds.

"Well, one option would be probably that the University and Urbana could possibly make up the city's share," Halenar said. "The other option is that the project could fail."

Dawson, who spoke to the Urbana City Council in January, said the discussion might be framed a little differently in Champaign. When he spoke in Urbana, the council was unaware whether they would even receive the grant.

"When I went over to Urbana it was more of a theoretical discussion," Dawson said.

The federal government awarded the grant to Champaign-Urbana on March 2. That's when the 30-day clock started ticking, and now the councils need to make a final decision by April 1.

"I believe they need to make a decision, yes or no, pretty quickly," Dawson said.

Sections (2):News, Local
Tags (1):Big Broadband

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